I am on a high. No, I haven’t started taking drugs. I feel high on life, motivation, passion, community. I had an amazing experience earlier this week. Maybe life-changing. Certainly empowering and inspiring.
I was so very honored to be chosen by the LIVESTRONG Foundation to be one of 34 volunteers representing the organization at the annual One Voice Against Cancer lobby day this past Monday and Tuesday in Washington, DC. OVAC is a national coalition of cancer-related organizations that brings a common, united message to our elected officials on the need for increased cancer-related appropriations. Overall, there were almost 100 volunteers representing 36 states and holding 154 meetings with legislative officials. We were there to make a difference.
Our goal was to secure commitments from our elected representatives to support more funding for cancer-related programs and research. I met with Michigan’s two U.S. senators and staff from the two representatives’ offices to ask for commitments in increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, and the CDC cancer programs. While we’ve made progress in the past, too many budget cuts have impacted research, preventative screening programs and more (for example, the NIH budget is nearly 18 percent below the FY2003 level). We need to strengthen our fight on this disease.
Consider these facts that merely scratch the surface as to the need for more funding for research, education and prevention:
- In 2016, there will be an estimated 1.7 million new cancer cases.
- 595,690 estimated people will die this year due to cancer. Basically, one out of four deaths will be from cancer.
- In my home state of Michigan, there will be an estimated 56,500 people diagnosed with cancer this year. About 21,000 people will die in the state due to cancer.
- Cancer’s economic impact is staggering – more than $216 billion annually will be spent in direct treatment and lost productivity.
- There are more than 14.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. (YES!) Survivorship programs, including those funded by the CDC, help address short- and long-term side effects and education needs.
- The cancer death rate dropped 23% from 1991 to 2012. Americans are living longer post-treatment.
From the time I was diagnosed, I tried to make a difference as a cancer advocate. At first, I felt a bit obligated to give back whenever and wherever I could – I am blessed to be a survivor when so many others are not, including my dear father who died from multiple myeloma But I always remember my dad’s words to me shortly before he died – he told me that he would forever believe in my ability to make a difference in the world, whether by helping one person at a time or leading a movement of change. He also reminded me to first enjoy my life because I deserved it. So I let go of that obligation, because I truly enjoy helping others and being involved in the cancer movement. It is inspiring, powerful and motivating. The statistics of those touched by cancer are startling and unacceptable. But the people you meet, befriend, and stand beside are worth every effort you give.
As for the people I was with…..it was an honor to be among them. We all have the common story of being touched by cancer, whether by our own diagnosis, someone else or both. We came together for a common cause, bonded by that and our desire to see positive change for others. As one friend put it – these people are ‘part of my tribe’ and provide an instant comfort, understanding and welcome. We have personally overcome adversity and challenges, yet stand strong to help others who don’t have a voice. And there are those special people in life who offer a rare almost instant connection, who ‘get you’ and have a way of making you smile and laugh at life. I was fortunate to meet some of those people who left a positive mark on my heart. I feel blessed for that honor.
And I love being in Washington, DC. There is a certain pride and love that fills me when I stand in front of our Capitol, Justice building and White House. As dirty and annoying as politics can be, there is much positive change that occurs in the buildings throughout DC. As I stood in front of the Capitol, I overheard someone say, “As citizens of the United States, it’s our home, no matter what state you reside in.” I thought that was a cool perspective.
This experience was almost too much for words, thus the delay in sharing it with all of you. Every time I sat down to type it out, I couldn’t express what I’m feeling. I’m still not sure I have captured it. Hopefully, you get it. Maybe you have your own tribe who ‘gets you’ and you have your own cause that fuels the passion and motivation in you.